Much of my adult life I’ve been looking for the perfect place that, when I see it, will make me sigh and say, “This is where I’ll write my book one day.” A place to feel calm, a bit coddled, like solitude was a state you might never tire of – a place with mild air, blue skies, plenty of space and just enough distractions.
I have found it: Waiheke Island in New Zealand, a destination I’d suspected for 10 years I'd love and which I finally visited last December. All 36 square miles of it are a study in laid-back, contented cool; people keeping it simple and letting everyone else get on with whatever they want to get on with. Such smiling magnanimity is made substantially easier than in other places, one imagines, by the surfeit of natural beauty here – white-sand beaches, limpid turquoise bays, gently folding hills lined with vineyards and pohutakana trees and dotted with bachs, the modest local cottages. (And by the fact that Kiwis are just nice.)
I also know exactly where I would while away the hour or two a day I’d require by way of writerly distraction: at a lovely little place called The Oyster Inn, in the town of Oneroa. Opened in November 2012, it’s owned by two globetrotting creatives, Andrew Glenn (the former UK marketing director of Louis Vuitton, who was also head of comms for Topshop) and Jonathan Rutherford-Best (the man behind Urban Caprice, which he sold to Richard Caring). Together they upped sticks from London in 2010 and, after travelling the world, decided to repatriate (both are half-New Zealanders) and cultivate a bit of serious international style, leavened with a healthy dose of the local down-to-earth-ness, on Waiheke.
The inn is actually a multi-attraction affair, housed in a big, lovely rambling clapboard building overlooking Oneroa Beach. It comprises an oyster bar, a proper fish restaurant (second picture) with a long and light-saturated terrace, a “fish and chippery” window for takeaways (third picture, with Rutherford-Best) and perfect, simple-chic accommodation (three rooms with wood floors, mid-century furniture, cotton dhurries on the floors and lazily spinning ceiling fans).
But the pièce de résistance is the gorgeous little shop (fourth picture), stocking one or two of everything you could possibly need for a day, a week or a month on the island. There are jandals (the so-silly-they’re-cool rubber sandals Kiwis are notorious for) in an original 1970 Havaianas design that Glenn had reissued, alongside perfect flat Soludos espadrilles from Spain. There are plush beach towels in the inn’s signature canary-yellow (along with Oyster Inn-branded sun creams in yellow plastic tubes); there are straw hats and sarongs and cotton-dhurrie beach bags and, for the boys, a selection of Orlebar Brown trunks. But best of all is the line of ineffably chic ikat and dip-dye kaftans and tops Glenn himself has designed and produced, called The Waihetian – and sold only here.
I bought a gorgeous white featherweight-cotton poncho-style pullover with patterns and stripes in hibiscus-pink and aquamarine, shot through with silver threads. I wore it every day of a week-long sojourn in Mauritius recently and garnered two compliments and a “Where can I get that?” from people I’d never seen in my life. But where I really want to wear it is back in Waiheke, sitting on a stool at the bar at the inn, noshing on the best fried calamari I’ve had in years, sipping a local Pinot Gris and perhaps plotting Chapter One. Or perhaps not.